In among the historic buildings on Vienna’s Judenplatz sits a giant square of stone. But there is more to this than meets the eye: the Holocaust Memorial offers a poignant reminder of the darkest chapter in Austrian history.
- Large monument designed by Rachel Whiteread
- Unveiled in 2000
- Dedicated to the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered by the Nazis
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Design and history
(The memorial sits among the historical surrounds of Judenplatz square)
Closer up, the square of stone reveals itself as a kind of inverted library: what you might see if you took the walls away, with a set of doors at one end.
The sides of the memorial feature row after row of books, their leaves facing outwards. The doors are closed, with no obvious way of opening them.
The wide plinth bears the names of the concentration camps where an estimated 65,000 Austrian Jews perished, as well as a dedication to the victims in German, English and Hebrew.
As with many works of this nature, the observer must cast their own interpretation on the object.
The sculptor, Rachel Whiteread, has described the purpose of such memorials as to challenge and to provoke thought. Which is why, for example, the book spines face inwards, so their identity remains unknown.
(The names of concentration camps are inscribed on the broad plinth)
Whiteread – the first woman to win the prestigious Turner Prize – won the international competition to design the Holocaust Memorial back in 1995.
It took another five years to actually install the piece, thanks to various bureaucratic and political issues, not least concerns about the location in a square dominated by old buildings (dating back as far as the the 1200s).
As it happens, the end result has been pretty well received by the Viennese and visitors alike. The same can be said about a newer memorial over on Otto-Wagner-Platz: the Wall of Names completed in 2021.
The area around Whiteread’s work has its own particular resonance: the memorial sits opposite one part of the Jewish Museum and on top of the excavated remains of a Jewish synagogue destroyed in a pogrom around 1420.
(The main site of the museum over on nearby Dorotheergasse has a permanent exhibition on the history of the Jewish community in Vienna, should you wish to learn more about the city’s treatment of Jews.)
How to get to the Holocaust Memorial
Judenplatz square belongs to the very core of old, medieval Vienna, so doesn’t come much more central.
Subway: Take line U2 to Schottentor station, line U3 to Herrengasse or lines U1 and U3 to Stephansplatz. All three subway stations are a short walk from Judenplatz, taking you through some of the rather nice buildings that make up most of Vienna’s centre.
Bus: Take lines 1A and 3A to Schwertgasse
Address: Judenplatz, 1010 Vienna